Kevin Hartwick grew up next door to the Blackburns and even from a youngster’s perspective, he says, he could tell Chuck Blackburn loved his community.
Blackburn had been a great fishing guide and was a great golfer, winning the Del Norte Golf Club championship, even turning down a chance to go pro. But Hartwick says it’s Blackburn’s work as a coach and a physical education teacher that connected him with the community’s youth.
“As a kid, he pretty much made sports available to our whole neighborhood,” Hartwick said. “When the sporting seasons changed, Chuck was a big part of having us out there playing football, baseball or basketball. It was because of who he was. We knew the change in seasons because he was the coach. For many kids growing up here he will always be their coach.”
Blackburn, who served on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors from 1998 to 2006 and continued to advocate on issues such as a bypass around Last Chance Grade after he retired, died of a heart attack Tuesday, his wife Melissa Blackburn said. He was 81.
Chuck Blackburn first set foot in Del Norte County in 1949. According to Melissa Blackburn, her husband and his father were on their way to Alaska when their truck broke down in Klamath. They wound up spending the summer there, she said. From that point on Chuck Blackburn worked as a dock boy on the Klamath at Dad’s Camp.
Blackburn was a fishing guide on the Klamath for 28 years, a physical education teacher and coach for 33 years, the “Voice of the Warriors” for 28 years, working at KPOD with Bill Stamps, and a county supervisor for eight years.
“In the later years he would be mowing the golf course at Del Norte Golf Club and he’d constantly be coaching the players, he stopped to mow and talk,” Melissa Blackburn said. “He loved meeting people and sharing with people.”
Chuck Blackburn told the story of how he came to Del Norte County with his father in his book “Kneebockers,” Melissa Blackburn said.
Melissa Blackburn said she met her husband in Big Flat in 1993. The two owned a home in that remote community with five dogs and three llamas before moving to Fort Dick in 2016, living near Redwood School — where Chuck Blackburn had his first teaching job in 1961.
“We went full circle,” she said. “He was a physical education instructor and a coach. He would call himself an educator and a builder of esteem for kids.”
Hartwick, who played on Blackburn’s Crescent Elk basketball teams in 7th and 8th grades and was on his junior varsity team at Del Norte High School, said he was the same age as Blackburn’s kids, Lynn, Charlene, Angie and Danny.
Hartwick remembers Blackburn converting the Crescent Elk playground into a golf course, complete with greens, and changing it to a basketball court when the season changed. Blackburn’s basketball teams were successful because kids learned how to win and were expected to try to win, Hartwick said.
“It was instilled in the program that you were there to play your heart out and make the ultimate goal to win the game,” Hartwick said. “Participation was definitely part of it, but you learned how to win at that level, which sometimes people miss out on.”
Hartwick also remembers his own father and Blackburn betting on their favorite football games with Blackburn floating to the Hartwick porch in a boat in the pouring rain to collect if he won.
“One other event, my father had a Volkswagen diesel pickup and it was back in the times when there was the energy crisis, so this thing would get 50 miles to the gallon,” Hartwick said. “Chuck always wanted that truck so my dad finally sold it to him. What Chuck didn’t know after he bought the truck was my dad was secretly adding diesel to the truck. The neighbor kept sneaking diesel into the truck every time they would to fill it up. Chuck kept telling him how fantastic the mileage was.”
Blackburn, along with Arman Gunnerson, were instrumental in starting the Crescent City Jaycees 8th Grade Basketball Tournament about 50 years ago, said Blackburn’s daughter Charlene.
“Dad had gone to a tournament in Yreka and approached Arman and said we’ve got to bring this to Crescent City,” Charlene Blackburn said. “It’s grown to be the biggest tournament...”
Melissa Blackburn said her husband was honored at the most recent Jaycees tournament earlier this month for his work in getting it started.
Realtor Kurt Stremberg said he was Blackburn’s student at Crescent Elk Middle School before the two worked together during the 1980s after Blackburn got his real estate license.
Stremberg said he, Blackburn and Del Norte County Supervisor Roger Gitlin formed the Last Chance Grade Advisory Committee in 2011.
“With Chuck’s background, having been a supervisor and familiar with a lot of issues dealing with Last Chance, he was a positive help for us,” Stremberg said. “He had connections with Caltrans that helped make that effort a positive effort from that end.”
Gitlin called the Last Chance Grade Advisory Committee a labor of pleasure. He said he, Blackburn and Stremberg obtained 34 different letters of support from other government agencies including boards of supervisors in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
Gitlin said he met Blackburn almost from the minute he arrived in Crescent City about eight years ago. Blackburn had been the “Voice of the Warriors” for 27 years and Gitlin, who had experience as a sports announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Sparks, said the two hit it off immediately through a mutual love of basketball and football.
“He was one of those rare individuals, who, everybody just loved the guy,” Gitlin said of Blackburn. “There was no disliking him because of his positions. He just had great people skills.”
Gitlin said Blackburn was a source of support for him as a county supervisor and would often speak with his colleagues on the board.
“He had access to each of those supervisors in a very special way where he could discuss really tough issues and they’d walk out shaking hands,” Gitlin said. “That’s really something. It’s a gift that he could do that.”
Charlene Blackburn said there will be a celebration of life for her father from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. March 24 at the Del Norte Golf Club, 130 Club Dr., Crescent City. People are encouraged to bring a dish and share stories about Blackburn.
Charlene Blackburn said she’s also working with her sister-in-law, Star Blackburn, to set up a scholarship through the Del Norte Scholarship Fund in her father’s name.
“That is what brought my father fulfillment in his life is to help others,” she said. “He always looked out for the community’s kids and he liked being a mentor to anybody that was willing to learn.”
Chuck Blackburn is survived by his children Charlene Blackburn, Danny and Star Whalen-Blackburn and Lynn and Scott Nielson; his wife Melissa Blackburn and her children Matthew and Desireé Starcke and their daughter Annette.
Blackburn is also survived by his grandchildren Chase, Cole and Bliss, Gina Marie and Tara and Shanna Lathrop. Blackburn’s daughter Angie Lathrop predeceased him in November 2016, according to Melissa Blackburn.
Chuck Blackburn is also survived by his two closest friends John and Edith Fraser and Larry and Kookie Amos. Melissa Blackburn said he and Larry Amos coached and taught together.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .